The Haftarah of the First Day of Rosh HaShanah By Rabbi Ezra Wiener


In our emotionally charged Haftarah, Chanah defends herself against Eili’s accusation that she is a drunkard by claiming, “Lo Adoni Ishah Keshat Ru’ach Anochi”, “No, my master, I am a woman of aggrieved spirit; I am suffering severe emotional anguish,” “VeYayin VeSheichar Lo Shatiti,” “I have drunk neither wine nor aged wine.” “Va’Eshpoch Nafshi Lifnei Hashem,” “Rather I have poured out my soul before God” (Shmuel I 1:15).

I would like to raise three questions about this story: First, what was it that precipitated Eili’s accusation that she was intoxicated? Was it merely that he saw her lips moving while her voice was barely audible, and as Rashi (Shmuel I 1:13 s.v. VaYachsevehah) proposes, that it was not customary for people to pray silently in those days? Was it merely the bizarre image of “Rak Sefateha Na’ot VeKolah Lo Yishamei’a”, “Her lips moved but her voice could not be heard” (Shmuel I 1:13)? Or was there an additional factor? Second, the root Sh. A. L. (to request or borrow) appears an inordinate number of times: Eili blesses Chanah and declares: “Lechi LeShalom VEilokei Yisrael Yitein Et Sheilateich Asher Sha’alt Mei’Imo,” “Go in peace and the God of Israel will grant you what you have asked from Him” (Shmuel I 1:17). Chanah declares, “El HaNa’ar HaZeh Hitpalalti VaYitein Hashem Li Et She’eilati Asher Sha’alti Mei’imo VeGam Anochi Hishiltihu LaHashem Kol HaYamim Asher Haya Hu Sha’ul LaHashem”, “It was this boy I prayed for; and the LORD has granted me what I asked of Him. I, in turn, hereby lend him to the LORD. For as long as he lives he is lent to the LORD” (Shmuel I 1:27-28). Finally, a question that has baffled many of the commentators and is essentially an extension of the previous question is what is the origin of the name Shmuel? The Pasuk relates “VaTahar Chanah VaTeiled Bein VaTikra Et Shemo Shmuel Ki MeiHashem She’Iltiv,” “And Chanah conceived a son and she called him Shmuel because she requested him from God” (Shmuel I 1:20). Shmuel’s name is from the root Sh.A.L.. However, a more direct name would be Sha’ul; why did Chanah use Shmuel?

I would like to explore what ostensibly was the underlying rationale of Eili’s accusation and what message the root Sh.A.L and its relationship with the name Shmuel has for us on the first day of the Jewish New Year, a day of reflection, Yom HaZikaron, Yom HaDin. Eili sensed Chanah’s melancholy, her dejected comportment after all of these years traveling to Shiloh with her husband Elkanah while being abused by her malevolent rival wife, Peninah. He therefore assumed immediately when observing her unusual mode of prayer that she drank herself into a stupor due to her depression. When there is the sense that one’s teetering world begins to crumble, there is the experience of an emotional upheaval, and perhaps in our case, a flashback to the drunkenness of Noach in response to a world devastated around him. Chanah, too, is lost in her despondency in Eili’s mind. After all, why wouldn’t she be intoxicated? Chanah’s life is a plaintive dirge; how else would she cope?

When Eili is essentially chastised by Chanah, “Ishah Keshat Ru’ach Anochi... VeYayin VeSheichar Lo Shatiti”, “I am a woman of aggrieved spirit... I have drunk neither wine nor aged wine” (Shmuel I 1:15), he realizes that she has learned the underlying message of Mishkan Shilo, which is actually written in our Haftarah on one occasion as Shin, Lamed, Vav (“SheLo”, “It is all his.”). Eili’s initial words of blessing, “VeiLokei Yisrael Yitein Et Sheilateich”, “And may the God of Israel grant you your request…” (Shmuel I 1:17). Here, the word “Sheilateich” is written without an Aleph which conveys the undisclosed message and unrevealed motif of this Haftarah. The related word “She’eilah,” “Request,” which also connotes borrowing (which itself is a response to a request), communicates to us that the Sho’eil has only asked well when he or she acknowledges that the item that was requested is only on loan - She’eilah, to be watched and cared for, and most importantly to be appreciated as a gift whose owner has graciously extended a loan. But the item remains “SheLo,” “His,” like the spelling of the city Shilo, accented by the absence of the Aleph in “Sheilateich” which in turn is emphasized by the woman who internalized this message, Chanah. In her perspective, everything we receive is due to God’s graciousness. She recognized the lesson Elkanah was teaching his family by ascending to the Mishkan as well. Hence the name ”El-Kanah”, “God acquires.” Only God possesses and only God has true ownership.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his Essays on Ethics, notes that in ancient times children had the status of property. He draws an analogy between one specific aspect of the story of Chanah and that of Sarah and Avraham. Chanah understood that her son was not her property and expressed and demonstrated this with the willingness to give her son to God for His exclusive service. “VeGam Anochi She’Iltihu LaHashem Kol HaYamim Asher Haya Hu Sha’ul LaHashem,” “I, in turn, hereby lend him to the LORD. For Kol Torah is a community-wide publication that relies on the generous donations of our friends and family in the community for its continuous existence. To sponsor an issue in memory of a loved one, in honor of a joyous occasion, or for a Refu’ah Sheleimah, please contact:

as long as he lives he is lent to the LORD” (Shmuel I 1:28). This passage is the key to understanding the message of God ordering Avraham Avinu to stop at the Akeidah: “Al Tishlach Yadecha El Hana’ar… VeLo Chasachta Et Bincha…”, “So not raise your hand towards the boy... And you did not withhold your son from me” (BeReishit 22:12). The test was not whether Avraham would sacrifice his son but whether he would give him over to God’s service. Ultimately, God was not requesting a child sacrifice, but rather something quite different. He wanted Avraham to renounce ownership of his son. He wanted to establish a non-negotiable principle of Jewish law that children are not the property of their parents, but of God.

How, then, are we to understand the name Shmuel? “VaTikra Et Shemo Shmuel Ki MeiHashem She’iltiv”, “And she called him Shmuel because she requested him from God” (Shmuel I 1:20). If Shmuel is literally translated as “Shemo Keil”, “His name is that of God,” then what does this have to do with She’eilah? Da’at Mikra suggests that it is plausible that the name Shmuel expresses the notion that through Shmuel ‘borrowed’ nature, God’s name became evident. He quotes the Pasuk from Parashat Ki Tavo: “Vera’u Kol Amei Ha’Aretz Ki Sheim Hashem Nikra Alecha”, “And all the peoples of the earth shall see that Hashem’s name is proclaimed over you” (Devarim 28:10). What does it mean for God’s name to be noticeable and unmistakable to all of mankind? The moment we acknowledge that the things most dear to us do not belong to us, but are rather on loan from HaKadosh Baruch Hu (as is evident from the tragic loss of the sons of Bruria and R’ Meir), we figuratively wear God’s name. Indeed, Chanah called him Shmuel, “Ki MeHashem She’iltiv”, “He was granted by Hashem.” It is precisely because she acknowledged that Shmuel was a gift - a She’eilah - from Hashem that she did not own him; but rather, he was to become God’s servant (“Hishiltihu”), and that God’s name was manifest through him (Shemo Keil).

Perhaps the Aleph in the middle of the root Sh. A. L. represents the Ani (I) or the Anochi (myself) which must be surrounded by the letters SH. L. as a reminder that everything that I think is mine actually belongs to Hashem. This is the reason for the peculiar spelling of the city Shilo and the word “Sheilateich” without the Aleph.

Our Haftarah, then, projects a most majestic idea. Endemic to the very fabric of our Jewish existence is a consciousness of surrendering not only one’s body and soul but also one’s most precious possessions to God. Not, God forbid, through the pagan rites of human sacrifice, but in service to him and with an unwavering devotion that permits the understanding that children, health, success and wealth are in no way expectations. They are gifts and are short-lived, sometimes for our full lifetime, and sometimes not. This consciousness comes from the internalization of the fundamental doctrine that “El Kanah,” “God possesses all,” and “Chanah,” “[through His] utter graciousness,” He “lends us” (Ki MeiHashem She’iltiv) our children and material possessions temporarily so that we can fulfill the spiritual aspiration of abandoning our personal liberties and devote ourselves and all that God has given us to His service. Shmuel, God’s name, will be magnified through “Ki MeiHashem She’iltiv” (i.e. through the recognition that we are only borrowing from Him). Our Haftarah thus presents one of the most vital themes for reflection and introspection on the Yom HaDin.

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